Not too long ago, when we had a mega snowfall here in Traverse City, I ran out to make snow angels, and then eyed a particularly large mound more carefully. Hmmm…Was there enough to fashion a small ‘igloo’? (I could certainly heap on more snow to make a bigger bump. Then, after packing it down I’d carve out a room. I’m good at it, because it’s what I did as a child.)
It required hands, knees, and a garden trowel. Kneeling down on a part of my snow-covered brick path that was never shoveled, I carved out a reasonable tunnel, taking care to pack the walls tight. Ta-da!
Well, truth to tell, it was more a wormhole. I wriggled inside on my belly. Darn. I would need to keep piling up snow on the spot further ahead, so I could form a decent sit-up place. Never mind: we’d get more snow soon enough.
Memories flooded back. All during my childhood my mother, after first securing my mittens with a long string that traveled from one mitten up my arm and around the back of my neck and down the other arm to its mate, would zip me into a thick, two-piece hooded snowsuit. Finally, she’d wrap a scarf around my neck, tug on my snow boots, and release me, a living Pillsbury dough girl, to waddle outside. All the youngsters in our neighborhood were similarly ‘stuffed:’ we could scamper around in freezing weather for long periods with little discomfort. (Kids with glasses suffered, though; they’d accidentally smear the lenses with their wet mittens, rendering them effectively blind.)
Below is some important ‘igloo’ advice I’d listed in my diary (rediscovered sixty years later in a moldering cardboard box in the basement):
1. Cut an 0 through the roof to look at the night sky.
2. Use a rolling pin to pack the walls.
3. To block the door hole, but not with snow, use a white rag.
4. Sit on a dishtowel to be less cold.
5. It’s lots warmer in igloos. No wind.
6. Pack a candy bar.
7. Push back hood to hear better.
8. Use the potty before starting out.
9. Poke very thin holes to hear what is happening outside.
Each igloo ‘room,’ by the way, was only 4-6 inches thick. If one collapsed, no worries. (None ever did.)
Anyway, when about seven or eight, I’d move into the breezeway, ‘mitten up,’ then zip into my snowsuit top- my snowpants usually stayed on me, so I could go out without my mother having to help me- and creep outside in the early evening darkness to tunnel into the snowy mound by the sidewalk that I’d staked out. When done building, I’d cover the entrance. Then, after using a specially prepared skinny stick or butter knife to slice tiny slits through the wall, I’d sit inside it and wait.
Once, when three neighborhood bullies gathered nearby to trade information, I found out that Billy B., the boy who lived two streets away, had deflated one of their Schwinn bike tires last fall, as part of an effort to fight back. They were now making plans to wash his face with snow, then ‘pound him.’ I knew about that torture. These three meanies were always pounding the kids who tried to protect their lunch box desserts.
A big conch shell, brought home from Guam by my soldier-uncle, produced a low, haunting moan when blown in just the right way. When one of the bullies passed by I made it moan, causing the rascal to look nervously around, then hurry away in the twilight.
I’d listen to passing women, their winter boots crunching through the snow, discuss runs in their stockings, their babies’ behaviors, and once, The Farmer’s Almanac prediction that our very snowy winter would usher in a cooler summer.
Very occasionally, a dog on his evening constitutional, leashed to a bored owner, would hike his leg on my snow mound. I worried that big dogs could pee a hole right through it.
Every overheard conversation was thrilling! I was right there, very close to the public sidewalk, but invisible. It was instructive to hear our immediate neighbors air what my mother called ‘their dirty laundry,’ as they shoveled out their driveway. They had no clue that a pigtailed busy-ears was right there, absorbing fascinating swearwords and insults.
He: “That pot roast tasted like overdone cowpats, Marlene...”
She: “You’d know, of course, because you’ve sampled cowpats, moron!”
Struggling to keep from laughing out loud, I recorded his accusation and her retort in my diary, and remembered to ask my (nun) teacher about cowpats. She arched her eyebrows and told me they were “reconstituted grass.” My mother was specific. “They are cow poop. Just that.”
Finally though, one of my bigger hideaways was destroyed when a kid tried to sled down the mound. It promptly caved in, dumping the spooked urchin into the largish empty space. Rumors flourished that a boogey-man had been hiding inside, itching to snatch anyone that interested it. One bully-brat swore he’d heard it moan with hunger. (My conch shell!!)
On the fringes, I couldn’t help yelling, “It could have been a boogey woman!" I was ignored.
Sometimes small children know things that might help sort out the world, if people would only listen.